Nov 1, 2013

A New Home for Old Friends !

The fact that I am a bookworm is known to all. Books are my solace, my refuge, something I always turn to when I am feeling down. A book is pure happiness, is as essential as the air I breathe! 

I think books should seriously be considered as stress relievers. They are also much more effective than medicines. I believe one dose of PG Wodehouse or Ruskin bond along with your antibiotics will help you recover from your cold or stomach upset that much faster! Works for me at least! 

For me reading is a religion. And I honestly treat my books like minor Gods. I am not averse to sharing things usually but I am very very hesitant about sharing my books and god help you if you give me back my book with even a scratch on it.

I also want my books to be accessible to me at all times. I rather fancy them as dear friends whom I can walk up to and have a pleasant conversation with at any time of the day. My time with my books is very precious to me. I like to sit quietly, leafing through them, re reading my favorite chapters and passages afresh. 


Till now all my books were scattered around the house. Some on tables, some in shelves, some locked inside the cupboards. I was not happy. I wanted all my books together, in one place. 

So I decided to indulge in a few good book shelves. After searching high and low through the city for many months, I found two fabulous book shelves in Amar Colony Antique Market. These gems were hiding behind a few tables and antique chairs and it seemed as if they were just waiting for me to spot them! I fell in love with them as soon as I saw them! 


Last weekend I spent a very pleasant day arranging my books in them and then proud as a peacock I put up a few pictures of the bookshelves on Facebook.





And then Suranga Date of the Strewn Ashes and Gappa fame saw them and penned this lovely poem about them on the spot. 


इतनी सारी सहेलियांकोई साइज़ शून्य
कोई टुनटुन जैसी,
कोई बाहरसे एकदम कड़क ,
और कोई इतनी मुलायम
कि दुसरे कि सहारे सिवा
खड़ी न रह सके.।

शीला आयी ,
बोली , "मुझे वोट दो, घर दिलाऊंगी "…
केजरीवाल आये
बोले "मुझे वोट दो, जगह दे दूंगा ,
लेकिन इलेक्ट्रिसिटी बिल आपका "…।
कोई हर्षभरा वर्धन आया ,
बोला " मुझे वोट दो,
मई प्याजके गहने फुकट दूंगा। …

फिर एक रुचिरा आयी
और बोली,
चलो मेरी बहना,
नया घर लाया है,
आराम से लेटो ,
कुछ वोट बीट नहीं चाहिए ,
लेकिन मेरी याद आयेगी
तो बाजूवाले झरोके से मुझे देखते रहना
और पूरी कि पूरी सहेलियां
नए घर कि तरफ भाग कर निकल पड़ी।

I particularly like the first para. The books are so well described. 

Thank you Suranga ! And I hope my books will be happy in their new home !

Oct 25, 2013

The Circle of Life

It is your turn now.

You are used to seeing them active and managing work and home without flagging even a little bit. Now the gait is getting slower, the hands once soft and manicured, strong and sturdy are as lined and wrinkled as autumn leaves. The back bents a little more with each passing season. You see the changes and yet you don’t want to see them.
They taught you how to tell time and helped your plump little fingers dial your first number on the phone, but now your smartphones and gizmos are beyond them and you curb your irritation when for a thousandth time they ask you how to send a simple sms or check mail. 

They were the ones who taught you how to drive and then drove you crazy with their constant back seat driving. Now it’s your turn to worry when they take the car and they are not home when they said they would.

They could take away the pain from your bruises and cuts with a few soft words. A cool hand was enough to sooth a forehead burning with fever. Now it’s your turn to fret over their back aches and their blood sugar scores and get exasperated when they refuse to go for their medical checkups.

From asking their advice on everything mundane and not so mundane, you find yourself voicing your opinion more and more often and not liking it when they don’t do as you say. From sharing everything with them, you start hiding a few unpleasant facts so that they don’t worry. Instead you are the one who develops worry lines thinking about them.

The changes are there. Almost imperceptible, but there. Inspite of all their show of independence, there is a sudden lack of confidence, a slight dithering in decision making, an occasional need for reassurance.

And yet they stubbornly refuse to give in. They still manage their own affairs, want to travel alone, drive themselves everywhere. They might walk slowly, but still snatch away their hand in irritation when you try to guide them over the uneven path.

Their egos are fragile and so you try to indulge them. But slowly, unobtrusively you take over the driving, the weekly shopping, their paperwork. You start cooking more often, although you’d avoided the kitchen like the plague earlier. You are the one haggling more and more with the electricians and the plumbers and making sure the house runs smoothly.

And suddenly you realize that you are the generation that now has to step in and take charge. At the back of your mind you always knew that this day would come. But when it does, you don’t want to accept it.

You long to fling the responsibility back at them, refuse to acknowledge the changes and what they mean. But you can’t. This you must accept. It’s inevitable.

It’s the circle of life.



Oct 18, 2013

Misty Roads !





I took this picture in Lonavala a few weeks back. It was raining heavily and the hills were enveloped in clouds. Driving through the mist felt very surreal and eerie. 


We couldn't see anything beyond a few feet. But then we would drive those few feet and then the next few feet would become visible. We completed the 
entire journey like this and managed to reach our destination safely.

I like to believe this is what life is all about. So many times we are unsure of what lies ahead, we are not able to see the future clearly and that’s what makes us scared to take the first few steps toward something we want to do.

But do we really need to have the whole journey mapped out ? Do we really need to see the whole road ? If we could clearly see what lay ahead it would take the fun out of everything wouldn't it?


I remember when we rounded a turn and suddenly saw a spectacular waterfall through the mist. It seemed all the more fantastic because we were least expecting it.




All we need is the courage to take those first few steps and slowly step by step the whole road will unfold !

If you people are wondering about the profound wisdom I seem to be suddenly spouting on the blog, Let’s just say that this post is a reminder to self :-) 

Oct 4, 2013

Tuning in to Nostalgia

We whitewashed our house last week and had to take down the TV cable for a while. What followed was four days of complete bliss and silence. For a change, the evenings did not find us hooked to the mindless trash on TV and the three of us actually had a few civil conversations with each other. By the third day however, the TV withdrawal symptoms were at their worst. Being forced to spend more time than was necessary in each other’s company without TV to distract us was straining our patience to the maximum. 

In self-defense I decided to switch on the radio. For the sake of nostalgia, I decided to forego the usual FM channels with their shrill voiced RJ’s and tuned into All India Radio.

The first thing I heard was the very dignified voice of an AIR Newsreader saying “Yeh Aaakashwani hai, ab aap suniye Hindi mein samachar” and that brought back an avalanche of memories.

In the 80s and 90s when I was a school going kid, TV had gained entry into almost all homes. Those were the days when the highlight of our TV viewing was the weekly film on Sundays and the Spiderman cartoon series preceding it. Not to forget the mother of all soaps – Buniyaad and Hum Log. But back then Television broadcasts were only for a few hours every day. So the Radio still reigned supreme.

The mornings in most households including mine started with the radio cackling to life. We measured our time according to the programs on the Radio. First came Vande mataram, followed by the morning bhajans. This meant it was time to get up and get ready for school. And if I was still gulping down my milk by the time the English news started, I was sure to miss my school bus!

I have dim memories of my parents and brother listening to a program called Hawa mahal at night. Hawa Mahal was immensely popular and used to show case plays by famous writers. Because Radio is not a visual medium, the success of the play depended entirely on how the actors read out their parts. The speakers modulated their voice and tone to suit every emotion. So you heard throaty laughter, hushed tones trembling with passion or high pitched angry voices. There was background music as well. If it was an outdoor scene you would hear the chirping of birds or traffic. In indoor scenes you could hear the rattling of tea cups, chairs scraping as someone got up. They gave attention to the minutest of details.
Such programs really gave wings to one’s imagination. You listened to the various sounds and then visualized and created the whole scene in your mind.

My parents always listened to the political discussions or various interviews with the political leaders that came later in the night after Hawa Mahal. I was too young to understand these discussions, but as I lay snuggled up in bed, the droning voices on the radio provided some sort of comfort and familiarity.

And for a very long time Cricket for me was synonymous with the commentary on AIR. The sports commentators used to describe the action so well and in such detail that you felt you were almost there. You could almost hear the crack of the bat as it hit the ball, you could hear the ball whistling through the wind and the cheers as the crowd erupted. For a long time, before close circuit cameras came in, people used to switch on the TV to see the match but kept the voice on mute, preferring to listen to the detailed commentary on AIR.

Late night studying for my 10th boards was made bearable by English songs that played well into the night. The English used by the RJ’s (if they could be called RJ’s at that time) was impeccable and they spoke in a perfect clipped accent. There was no Hinglish then, either pure Hindi or English.

Another favorite was the BBC world service – recommended to everyone who wanted to be up to date with news and also learn proper English.

All India radio had many popular programs but there were a few that had an almost cult following. There is an entire generation of women out there who used to swoon in ecstasy whenever the very baritone voice of Ameen Sayani welcomed you to Binaca Geet mala. There were many programs on Film songs but I particularly remember one called Aapki Farmaish that played songs on requests. Requests for songs would pour in from places like Jhumri Talaiya prompting us kids to open the Atlas to see if the place actually existed! 

And not only Bengal but most of North India religiously woke up at 4 am on Mahalaya every year to tune into Mahishasurmardani. That if not anything heralded the beginning of Navratras for us.

The commentators at that time were very dignified and proper. The listeners or “shrotagan” were treated with utmost respect and reverence. The programs were more riveting and captured your interest totally. 

Radio then was something gentle and soothing, without the crassness and cacophony today’s Radio programs sometime seem to reflect.

Sep 17, 2013

May be Yes, May Be No, May be I don’t know !

This is part 3 of my “Japan and I” Series. To read the previous posts, Please click here.

In many ways, Japan still remains a mystery to the rest of the world. 
For here, the ancient and the modern not only coexist but seem to do so in great harmony. The land of the rising Sun is as comfortable with its bullet trains and cutting edge technology as it is with Zen and Geishas.
Japan has a unique culture, with its own peculiarities and quirks that seem natural to the Japanese but intrigue and surprise all foreigners. 

Through this series, I attempt to talk about the Japan I saw and experienced! 

Today we talk about the Japanese and their very baffling conversation style !


 For all my years of working with the Japanese the one thing that exasperates me the most is their inability to say No. Instead of refusing a request directly, they will give you vague, ambiguous answers that will simply confuse and baffle you.

If there is one race that has perfected the art of Diplomacy, It is the Japanese. Qualities such as being straight forward and frank that are admired by the rest of the world are considered uncouth and barbaric by them. They feel that a direct refusal is very impolite and lacking in aesthetic sensibility. Instead they rely on subtle nuances and euphemisms to get their point across.

While interacting with the Japanese, one has to learn to read between the lines because what is left unsaid in the conversation is more important than what is actually said. When the Japanese say things like “Let me think about it”,” It looks difficult”, “Ahh I see …. “ they are using them as mere euphuisms for saying No. This can be very misleading for people not well versed in Japanese culture and norms.

Translation from Japanese to English is extremely difficult not just because the language is tough, but because to be able to interpret accurately one has to understand the meaning behind the words rather than directly translating them. Sometimes a whole lot is literally lost in translation simply because the translator is not able to catch the actual intent of the speaker. This leads to a lot of tearing of hair and banging of heads in frustration by all concerned!

Here are a few examples:

What the Japanese Say: “This looks like an interesting proposal. We will think about it.”

What they really mean: “This is a terrible proposal and we are throwing it in the dustbin!”

What the Japanese Say: “It looks difficult to me. But let me see what I can do”

What they really mean: “It’s completely impossible and I am not going to waste any time over it.”


They are also masters in making a conversation go round and round in circles. Many years back, when I was still new to the workings of the Japanese mind, I tried to rent an apartment in Osaka. Here is the very interesting conversation I had with the manager of the building.

Ruch:”I would like a corner apartment please”

Manager: “I see. You want a corner apartment. then”

Ruch:”Yes, please”

Manager : “We have a lot of other rooms that have a nice view”

Ruch: “Yes, but I prefer a corner apartment”

Manager: “Our other apartments are equally good …. “

Ruch : “Yes, but as I said I prefer a corner one … “

Manager: “Ahhh …. Umm …It’s a long walk from the lift though … “


And we both went on and on until it dawned on my thick skull that there were no corner apartments available and that he had been trying to say no to me all along.

The main reason for all this ambiguity is that the Japanese love harmony in everything including relationships and so try to avoid confrontation and conflict at all costs. Also by being indirect about a refusal they are basically saving the other person from embarrassment and loss of face. 
They also prefer to show disagreement in a non-verbal way such as tone and body language rather than in actual words.

It is not as if the Japanese are always so vague. On the contrary they are very precise and clear while explaining things. For example their technical or Business Processes will always be very explicit and detailed. The ambiguity sets in only during their interactions with others.

As a language, Japanese has the capability of expressing itself fully. It is just that the Japanese social norms and culture forbids its people to be so direct and forthright.

Sep 12, 2013

Sponsored Video: Lifebuoy Help a child reach 5 !

Before we get into this post, please take a minute to see this video. 



I have grown up hearing my mother tell me “Go and wash your hands first” as soon as I returned from school and before every meal. 

Washing your hands is something that most of us take for granted but do you realize that in India, not washing hands is indirectly the cause of over 6 lakh children dying before they turn 5. Hand washing with soap can help in reducing diarrhea by 45% and pneumonia by 23% - the two major diseases that affect young children. 

When we speak of washing hand and hygiene, lifebuoy invariably comes to our mind. All of us have grown up hearing the jingle “Tandurasti hai jahan, Lifebuoy hai wahan”. Lifebuoy for us is synonymous with hygiene and hand washing.
Now Lifebuoy goes a step further in their quest for health and hygiene by introducing their ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ campaign.

Lifebuoy aims to teach school kids, new mothers and through them the whole community the importance of washing hands. The purpose is to inculcate this habit in as many people as possible and thus help in reducing the mortality rate of children under five years of age by two third by the year 2015.

Lifebuoy has adapted Thesgora, a village in Madhya Pradesh, with one of the highest rates of diarrhea to promote the importance of washing your hands.
To start off their campaign they have also taken out the above video by Kajol where she urges people to join Lifebuoy in their campaign to eradicate Diarrhea from India, one village at a time. 




As they say, charity begins at home ! You and I can also help in this cause by stressing the importance of washing hands to our children and other family members.

You can also do your two bits by clicking on the following link and making a donation. The proceeds from the donations will go to Population Services International (PSI), a leading health organization for implementing hand washing programs.

For every donation that you and I make, Lifebuoy will match the donation amount for its handwashing programs. Lifebuoy will also donate 1 rupee to handwashing programmes every time the ‘Help a Child Reach 5’ video is shared online.

A healthy and strong generation is very important in the growth of a nation and that is what Lifebuoy aims to do. 

So tell me would you like to join hands for this cause ! 
You can watch Lifebuoy’s Help a Child Reach 5 video here 
For more information, visit Facebook.com/Lifebuoy 
Check out Lifebuoy ‘s website


This post has been sponsored by Lifebuoy, but all thoughts are my own.

Sep 9, 2013

From Black Robes to Backpacks !

The biggest problem travel addicts like me face is that we don’t always find like-minded people to travel with. So I am forever in search of travel groups that might serve my purpose. It was while searching for such a group that I discovered Girls on the Go. (or GOTG as it is called)
The fact that it was a travel group solely for women piqued my interest. On a whim I decided to sign up for one of their upcoming trips. It was during that trip that I first met Piya Bose, the founder of GOTG.

Soft spoken and polite, with a smile that lights up her entire face, Piya with her zest for adventure is a delight to travel with. Over the years an easy friendship developed between us and listening to her tell me how and why she started GOTG, just reinstated my belief that if you have enough passion and conviction you can do just about anything. 


So, when I was asked to write about a Woman Entrepreneur, I couldn't think of a better person than her!

Piya was first bitten by the travel bug when she went to South America on Rotary Exchange at the age of 16. It was during this trip that she realized that traveling was what made her the most happy. 
On her return however, she followed the conventional path and went on to graduate in Law from the prestigious National University of Juridical Sciences. She started her career at one of the top law firms in India. Most people would kill for such a lucrative job, but Piya spent all her spare time researching travel destinations and doing interesting things like figuring out ways to travel from London to India by road. (yes she actually made a road map for this!) The desk job made her restless and she knew for certain that she didn’t want to spend her days sitting in front of the computer, doing graveyard shifts for the rest of her life.

A chance trip to Lucknow was to be the turning point in her life. From Lucknow she took a spur of the moment decision to travel to Nepal and once there she realized that there were tour operators actually offering trips into Tibet. On a whim she decided to pull out all her savings and take an impromptu trip to Tibet. Her moment of epiphany came as she stood facing the majestic Mt Everest. That was the moment she decided that she wanted to do something meaningful and different in her life.

Through her solo travels Piya had observed that not many Indian women travelled on their own. Usually they travelled with their families and with them they were still playing their roles of a wife or a mother or a daughter. She felt women had no opportunities to just let down their hair, enjoy and be themselves. Also, women who did want to travel alone were hesitant to do so because of safety issues.

Piya decided she wanted to change that.

And so in 2008, Girls on The Go – An exclusive all women’s travel group was born.

For all her love for travel, Piya had no experience at all about the travel Industry. All she had was a dream and the conviction to follow it. Since she had just come back from Tibet she decided to put her knowledge of high altitude travel to good use and decided upon Ladakh as her first travel destination. With no money or resources, she banked on her ingenuity to make this trip a success. She started off by putting advertisements in travel magazines and social media groups. All the while she researched as much as she could about the destination. Within three months she had a total of 26 ladies who wanted to travel with her.

That trip was a resounding success and Girls on the Go has never looked back since.

I have traveled many times with Piya and the sheer dedication and hard work that she puts into each and every trip is evident. Her ground work is thorough, her planning is impeccable and her trips run smoothly and flawlessly.

What sets Girls on the Go apart from rest of the travel groups is that it doesn't just herd people together, book hotels and send them off. Piya connects with each client individually before and during the trip to understand their needs and this goes a long way in building positive relationships. The itinerary is planned not from a financial angle but by keeping the interests and comfort of the group in mind. 

Apart from the excellent manner in which she runs her operations, innovation and thinking out of the box is her USP. I remember on trip to Ajanta Ellora, Instead of the usual tourist guide, she got members of the Archaeological survey of India to explain the history of the paintings to us. During that trip we also went to Lonar lake, a destination most of the travel companies are not even aware of. And we had a guide who has actually worked with the NASA physicists explain the nature of this lake that was actually created by a meteor.

Her passion for exploring different cultures, architecture, art and food makes her trips very enriching. Her trips are filled with interesting activities from mud spas, heritage walks of Old Havelis in Rajasthan, cooking local cuisine in Bali, sailing down rivers in Vietnam to staying on the banks of a lake deep in Ladakh.

Although women travel as a group, she makes sure that they also have enough time and opportunity to just be by themselves and do things individually.

Travelling for Piya is a form of meditation. GOTG trips are never just trips, they are journeys  from which you come back rejuvenated with a refreshed outlook towards life. As she told me once, “I want to make a difference in the lives of women. If women benefit from my travels, if the trip helps them reconnect with themselves and helps them in their journey of life – I would be delighted.”

Needless to say, Girls on the Go is now one of the most successful Women Travel groups in India.


Piya has been featured in many newspapers and magazines. She was also invited to speak at a TEDx event.


                               

Piya also featured in IBN 7's program titled "Zindagi Live" where she spoke about taking up unconventional careers. Her advice to anybody wanting to start a new venture is “Don’t think too much, listen to that inner voice and just take the plunge.”

In her pursuit to make a difference in the lives of people and work towards a social cause, Piya is also working on a travel venture for differently abled people.

When we talk of successful women entrepreneurs we usually think of women who have started an enterprise in the face of extreme personal adversity. But to follow your passion, to abandon a bright career to tread on a path that you have never walked on before also needs courage and great self belief. 


All of us have dreams, but how many of us give up our comfortable lives to follow those dreams. And that too, to not work simply for the financial benefit for it, but in order to make a difference in the lives of others. 

This in my eyes is what true entrepreneurship and nurturing independence is all about. 

Piya and I - Fellow Travelers and foodies ! 

Written for the Indiblogeshwaris Ladies Independence Special Contest in association with http://womenentrepreneursinindia.com/

Aug 29, 2013

Blowing Hot and Cold in Japan !

This is part 2 of my “Japan and I” Series. To read Part 1, Please click here.
 

In many ways, Japan still remains a mystery to the rest of the world. 
For here, the ancient and the modern not only coexist but seem to do so in great harmony. The land of the rising Sun is as comfortable with its bullet trains and cutting edge technology as it is with Zen and Geishas.Japan has a unique culture, with its own peculiarities and quirks that seem natural to the Japanese but intrigue and surprise all foreigners. 
Through this series, I attempt to talk about the Japan I saw and experienced! 


Today we talk about the Japanese and their love for formal wear !

The first thing I do whenever I am about to visit Japan is stock up on my formal clothes! 

Formals are an accepted wear in any work environment across the globe but the Japanese take the formal wear fetish to new heights. Not only are they particular about being dressed in formals but also about the color. Every working person in japan or “Salary-Man” as they are called will be dressed in a conservative black or dark blue suit, tie and a sparkling white shirt all five days of the week. Yes, even on Fridays, when the rest of the world, a little saner in aspects of allowing people freedom, lets its employees come to work in informal clothes, Japan still sticks to full formal attire.

I guess men don’t have much of a color choice any ways, but even the women stick to black and white or dull light colors. During the morning rush hours, the Japanese scuttling out of the train station reminded me irresistibly of penguins!

Wearing formals is fine in winter, but in summer wearing a full suit in Japan can be sheer hell. From June to September, Japan gets extremely hot and humid and the severe jackets and tailored shirts just add to the discomfort. 


I used trains to commute to work and my office was a good 10 minutes’ of sweltering walk from the station. In spite of carrying my Jacket in my hand, I used to reach work all sweaty and already in need of another bath.

To add to our woes, a few years back, the Japan Government in a crazy bid to conserve energy came up with the brainwave that the A/C in all offices will not be more than 28 degrees. At 28 degrees the cooling is non-existent and there is no concept of ceiling fans in japan. People resorted to buying small fans and clipping them on their desks but that did nothing but throw ineffectual gusts of air your way. So you slowly and steadily melted in the stifling heat as the day progressed.

We foreigners muttered and complained darkly about this new regulation but the Japanese “salary-man” bravely soldiered on – while their crisp white shirts turned grey and sodden in the heat and their ties hung loosely and lifelessly around their neck. But they still wore their formals! The Japanese are nothing if not conformists!

Then a few years back Ministry of environment decided to come out with the  “Cool – Biz” Campaign.

The formal wear was relaxed a bit in the summer. People were now allowed to wear short sleeved shirts and jacket and ties were not required from the months of June till September. Women could wear loose cotton tops and do without jackets as well. 
A special advisory was passed to wear starched collars so that they don’t become limp with sweat and also to wear light cotton shirts and trousers as this material was most comfortable in summer.

This sent shock waves throughout the working world in Japan. Most of the Japanese, trained for years on wearing full formal clothes found the whole idea sacrilegious! I suppose coming to work without ties and jackets was for them equivalent to coming to work in shorts and Hawaiian shirts. For a logn time, most of them still came to work with their ties in their pockets and their jackets in their hands lest they were the odd ones out.

But clothes retailers caught on fast and started manufacturing thin cotton clothes suitable only for the Cool Biz period. It’s now quiet common to go to department stores in Japan in the beginning of summer and see advertisements for “Cool Biz” attire.

Japanese Clothes Retailer Uniqlo showcasing its "Cool Biz" range ! 



Japan still follows its rule of formals throughout the week but now the number of people coming to work tie less and wearing light colored trousers and half sleeved shirts in summer is slowly increasing. 

I suppose the Japanese “Salary-man” has finally given in to comfort over conformity! 


Aug 8, 2013

Age No Bar - 55 Fiction !

I love you so. He said earnestly. Just give me one chance.
Look at our age difference !
Loves knows no age, and you’re an adult at 23.
And you are too .....
She stopped. Unwilling to hurt his feelings.
Dejected he walked away.
He’s got loads of spunk for a 12 year old. She thought amused. 



Jul 31, 2013

Faking Food !

This post was chosen as BlogAdda's Spicy Saturday Pick ! 

Beginning today, I plan to start a new bi-monthly series on Japan called “Japan and I”.
In many ways, Japan still remains a mystery to the rest of the world. 
For here, the ancient and the modern not only coexist but seem to do so in great harmony. The land of the rising Sun is as comfortable with its bullet trains and cutting edge technology as it is with Zen and Geishas.
Japan has a unique culture, with its own peculiarities and quirks that seem natural to the Japanese but intrigue and surprise all foreigners. 
Through this series, I attempt to talk about the Japan I saw and experienced! 

In the inaugural post of the series, we talk about the Plastic Food Displays in Japan.

On my very first day in Japan, I decided to go out for a meal. As I walked down a street lined with restaurants, I was surprised to see that all of them had plates of food displayed outside or in their windows. What amazed me that the food  looked so fresh, the ice-creams never melted and  the beer remained frothy. Then off course once my Jet Lag had worn off and I could think clearly I realized that the food was made of plastic ! 

When ever we go to a restaurant, we usually decide on what we want to eat by looking at the menu or asking the waiter about a particular dish. Not so in Japan. The Japanese decide what they want to order by looking at its plastic replica in the restaurant’s window display.

 The plastic model will have everything from the size of the portion, the garnishing, and even the placement of the food exactly like the actual dish.The name of the dish and the price is also displayed. Its amazingly realistic ! 

Image curtsey - http://www.travelocafe.com

Apart from the fact that the Japanese prefer things to be visual than written, the reason behind these plastic models is that when Japan opened up to the west in the beginning of the 20th century and a lot of westerners trooped in, they had a very tough time in understanding the Japanese cuisine. 
I suppose many a confused westerner must have ordered a plate of noodles and ended up with a plate of raw fish instead. Then the Japanese hit upon this ingenious idea of displaying plastic “samples” of the dishes.

And not only the main dishes, but even dessert is displayed. Now who wouldn't like to go in if the display is so tempting ! 





Earlier the fake food was made of wax but now it’s made of a whole lot of sophisticated plastic. The plastic food or “Fake food” Industry is really big in Japan. I once visited the kappabashi area in Tokyo that is famous for shops that sell such plastic food to restaurants. 

Although things like bowls of rice, a plate of sushi or bowls of plain noodles are manufactured in bulk, most restaurants send pictures of the dishes they want plastic samples of. The samples are then painstakingly handcrafted to make them look realistic!

These shops have something for the tourists too ! If you want, you can take home a plastic sushi, shrimp or even ice-cream sundaes in the shape of key chains, cell phone charms and even magnets!



(Images from fakefood.com)

Delectable, I am sure ! But would you really want a piece of raw fish or a bit of chicken hanging from your phone ?

Jul 28, 2013

From Commoner to Royalty and Back !

For someone who hates any sort of attention, I did get a lot of it the minute I was born. I was rather tall for a newborn and every doctor and nurse in the All India Institute of Medical sciences hopped over to my Mom’s room to have a look at the tallest baby anyone had ever popped out! Mom was obviously exasperated and as she confessed to my aunt, she felt as if everyone was accusing her of smuggling in a month old baby instead of a new born. 

Before I was born, my brother had ruled over the Shukla family in solitary splendor for 8 years. Then, thanks to me he was unceremoniously dethroned. Till then, he was comfortably encosed in his world of toy warships and cars, with the entire family revolving around him. Enter younger sister into this idyllic existence and he suddenly didn’t know how to fit me into the scheme of things.

Luckily for him, because my Mom had to go back to work and my Grandmother couldn’t bear to see me being looked after by a nanny, I was taken away to my Grandparents home.

Thus began the golden period of my life!

When my brother was born, my parents were in Calcutta so no one got the chance to mollycoddle him. This time, I was right there and never the ones to miss a good opportunity, they wasted no time in spoiling me!

My life you see was made.

Oh I was such a pampered child! My every whim and fancy was their command. My grandma planned her whole day around me and my aunts never came home from work without bringing something for me. Other assorted family members plied me with sweets and toys.

My aunts loved to dress me up and take me out. Even one sneeze, one little cough from me used to send them scattering about like headless chickens flapping their arms and worrying. And on hot summer nights, when power cuts and mosquitos abounded, they spent the whole night carrying me in their arms and patting me to sleep.

But the most amazing thing was the change in my grandfather. He was then the Principal of a school, a strict disciplinarian, and everyone from the family to his teachers and students was petrified of him. Although he loved his children, he never displayed any emotions towards them. All this changed with me. I looked at him once out of my big liquid eyes and he melted.

The family had to face his wrath if I as much as whimpered and there was no one to pick me up. According to my grandmother, he never ever picked up any of his children but I was mostly to be found in his lap. I was allowed in his room and he didn’t mind when I waddled all over the place overturning his books and papers and playing with his spectacles. This man who hardly spoke would tell me stories any time I asked for them. And he was the one who gave me the greatest gift of my life - By teaching me how to write.

But then all good things must come to an end. I reached the school going age and my parents decided to call me back. So very reluctantly, amongst much drama and tears, I left the tender loving care of my Grandparents and went back to Delhi.
My parents were the loving kind, but were not the ones to fuss over their kids unnecessarily. No special treatment was doled out to me.

And so ended my days as the Royal Baby! I was back to being a commoner!

Here an old grainy pic of me with my grandfather. 


Written for the Indiblogeshwaris That Tuesday Thingy

Jul 11, 2013

On Writing a Haiku !

Haiku is a form of Poetry very close to my heart. Recently I wrote a short write-up on Haiku on Write Tribe - An excellent site for Writers and Bloggers. 

[Haiku is a style of Japanese poetry mainly characterized by its very short format. Like almost all Japanese forms of art, Haiku is inspired by nature. Through Haiku, poets attempt to create an image for an element of nature or an emotion.
The beauty of a Haiku lies in its subtle imagery. Personal experiences or natural beauty is never explicitly described but fleeting natural images or emotions are used to subtly capture a larger scene. A haiku leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination or interpretation.......]

To read the complete Post click on http://writetribe.com/haiku/

We also have a very interesting writing Prompt on Haiku.So hop on over and give it a shot !

Jul 6, 2013

The Sounds of Nostalgia

I am in Chandigarh visiting a friend. We sit in her garden sipping Nimbu Paani and lament about the heat and the delayed monsoons. As if taking pity on us sweltering in the heat, a cool breeze starts. And as it picks up, the little bells on the wind chimes hanging from a low branch on her mango tree clink musically.

And just like that, I am back in Kyoto.



I walk in silence up a narrow path twisting its way up to the Shinto Shrine. It is shaded by trees on both sides, flamboyant in their autumn colors of rust and orange. The air has the chill of the coming winter in it. The path is strewn with dry leaves that crunch under my feet as I walk. In the distance the bells of the shrine ring softly, continuously. And in that sweet sound there is something of the autumn’s sadness and melancholy. 

                                           -----

I walk briskly down a street in Delhi. I am late for a client meeting and my mind is on the presentation I have to make. As I pass a restaurant, its door opens and some jazz music floats out. Suddenly I am not standing in Delhi’s commercial district, sweating in my best formals, my laptop bag biting into my shoulder.

I am in Montreal, on a balmy summer night.

I have just two days in the city and determined to make the most of it; I decide to go for a late night walk. Even at that hour the city is vibrant, pulsating and alive. The street ahead is blocked off and there is some sort of stage at one end. Intrigued I walk towards it and realize that I have stumbled upon one of Montreal’s impromptu Jazz events so common in the summer.

 Although I am alone, I decide to stay and listen awhile. The concert begins and soon I am swaying to the music and tapping my foot to the beat. I clap wildly when the performance ends, and when the next number starts, even livelier than the last one, the person next to me impulsively takes my hand and dances a few steps with me. Strangers, we bond together for those few moments over our love for Music and Life. 

                                           -----


Every place has its own music, its own beat. Along with the people that I meet, the food that I eat and the sites that I visit, it is these sounds, this music that I carry in my heart. And when I am least expecting it, I hear something that transports me back into time and brings on a kaleidoscope of poignant bittersweet memories of places visited and times well spent !


This post is written for the That Tuesday Thingy Contest on Indiblogeshwaris


Jun 20, 2013

The Release

“I can’t take it anymore.” I want to put an end to it all”.

Even through the phone she could hear the pain and desperation in his voice.

“But you can’t, it’s against nature”

“I don’t care, It’s too much to bear”.

He slammed down the phone and sat looking at the pills for a long moment. Finally he picked them up and swallowed them quickly.

Then he leaned back, closed his eyes and waited for the release.

After a while he opened his eyes and smiled. The painkillers sure made his migraine go away in a jiffy.

Naturopathy be damned!


This Drabble was written in response to this week's  Write Tribe Prompt.
A Drabble, for the uninitiated is a short story of exactly 100 words. 



Jun 18, 2013

Sepia Tones

I found this scribbled in a journal I used to write on and off while I was in Tokyo a few years back. I used to live in a concrete jungle then and I suppose I didn't like it much!

This seems like a good time to reproduce the entry here !

16th July, 2007,

The rains in Japan are not the same as the rains in India. Somehow they seem more impersonal here. There is no rejoicing, no sense of relief that the parched, scorching summer months are gone. People go about their business as usual, hidden under huge black umbrellas, shapeless in their raincoats. 

No one puts out a hand to catch the raindrops; No one stands with their face turned towards the sky, letting the rain caress their face.

There are no kids splashing in the puddles,or trying to float little paper boats. I suppose the Japanese kids are better behaved than ours.

The rain doesn't make the same sound in this country. In India it has a soft comforting sound, enveloping you like a soft blanket. Even when it is falling on tin roofs there is a certain melody to it.

Here the rain has a bit of the typhoon in it, it slams against the buildings, bangs against my glass windows like whip lash and falls incessantly on asphalt and tarmac.

And right now I would give anything for the smell of wet earth!

Jun 17, 2013

Sunday Solitude !

On Sunday, I decided that today I will keep myself away from all distractions. So I switched off my Laptop and the TV.
There was on one at home. It rained the whole day, so i couldn't even go anywhere. 
But I didn't mind it. Because I had the best company one could ever hope for !


I discovered that there is something very comforting in the sound of rain falling softly around you. And that there is no perfume on this earth that can match the smell of wet earth ! 



So how did you spend your Sunday ! 

Jun 12, 2013

A Soul's Torment

We sit in the car
My friend and I
On our way to work
Songs play on the radio
We sing along, talk inanely
I tease him about his long hair
how it clashes with his formal attire

His phone rings
Still laughing, he answers it
Pin drop silence
Suddenly he screams
Scream after torturous scream
Like a soul tormented in hell

And then, his body shaking violently
He cries bitter tears
Of agony, fury and despair

I sit there frozen, silent, helpless
A mute witness to his anguish
Death, in one fell swoop
Alters lives forever 


Jun 10, 2013

Why I write

It was a balmy summer morning. It had rained the previous night and the morning felt fresh and cool. The air was heavy with the fragrance of mango blossoms and somewhere in the distance a Koel bird sang happily in anticipation of more rains. 

The Old Man and the little girl walked through the mango orchard. Her small pudgy hand clasped in his is large one, as dry and wrinkled as autumn leaves. His big strides slowed down to match her little ones.

They walked in silence down the row of trees, past the fields where wheat stalks swayed gently in the wind and towards the river swelled with the monsoon rains. He, immersed in prayer and she unwilling to disturb his conversations with God.

Finally as they reached the river, he finished his prayers and sighed softly. This was her cue. She looked up at him eagerly and said “Dadu, tell me a story”.He had been expecting this. Every day she asked for a story and everyday he told her one. Sometimes, it was a story from the Panchatantra or the Ramayana and sometimes it was a story out of history, tales of battles fought and kingdoms won. 


But today, instead of beginning a story, he smiled, his eyes crinkling with the effort and said “why don’t you tell me one today”. He expected her to squirm and say that she didn't know any. But she looked up at him confidently and with a gleam in her eyes began to speak.

She started a story about a tiger and a woman it meets in the jungle. She prattled on, her childish imagination on fire, adding characters, making up the story even as she spoke. He listened quietly without interrupting her even once.

Finally he asked her where she had heard the story.” No where Dadu, I made it up just now. I love making up stories.”

He didn’t say anything, but the next day he got her a notebook and a pencil and told her to write whatever came to her mind. And she, who had barely learnt how to string full sentences, confidently wrote day and night. She wrote childish stories, or descriptions of the day she had spent, telling tales of their walks near the river, the mangoes that fell during the storm and the frogs that jumped about after it rained.


Her notebook became her prized possession, something she never showed to anyone but him. He would correct her English, teach her new words but he never ever questioned or curbed her flights of imagination or her writing style.

The ritual continued over the years. The first thing she did when she went to her grandparents’ home during the summer vacations was show him whatever she had written over the months. He would read it and nod, and sometimes when the piece was exceptionally good she would be rewarded with a pat on her back. In spite of being the prolific writer that he was, he was not a man of many words. But to her the pat was like a benediction.

She stopped writing after he passed away. She couldn't bring herself to write anymore. But after a while she realized she missed it too much. Writing for her was almost a need, a release. It was the only way she knew how to express herself. So she picked up her pen and began writing again.


That little girl was me. And perhaps that is why I write. Because my grandfather taught me how, because I inherited this craft from him and because this is his legacy that I carry forward.


Jun 3, 2013

Of Birthday toasts and Underwater sea walks !

And we interrupt the broadcast of the Andaman Travelogues to write a post about something very close to my heart!

About a year back, almost to the day, a certain blogger sat in her Mumbai home  moodily twisting her curly hair between her fingers. Always given to whacky ideas and new initiatives, she wanted to start something different. 

As she sat there drumming her fingers on her laptop, an idea brewed in her head 
- An idea that would eventually have such far reaching impact that even she would be amazed.

She decided to start a group called Indiblogeshwaries - A group of Indian women bloggers. And since she has to do everything differently she decided to forbid sharing of blog links on this page. “No self-promotion” she proclaimed. “We will talk of everything and anything on this page except our blogs !” She started off by inviting her blog friends to join this group and they liked it so much there that they in turn decided to invite their friends! 


I was initiated into this secret society by Purba Ray. When a blogger of Purba’s caliber asks you to do something. You don’t demur. You just do it. So I joined!

For the first few weeks I hardly visited the group. I didn't know too many people there and I felt shy participating. So I used to sort of hover on the sidelines, simply reading the comments and then going away without saying my two bits. But then slowly the conversations there started intriguing me.

So very slowly, very hesitatingly I started participating. Initially I was wary of expressing my opinion in a group where I hardly knew anyone. But then once I started commenting; I was warmly welcomed, taken by hand and pulled in till I felt I was in the middle of a mad boisterous never ending party. Suddenly from being a stranger who hovered hesitatingly at the doorstep I was now cozily sitting on the sofa with a drink in my hand, vouchsafing my opinion and getting into discussions about everything and anything under the sun. 

I am from JNU, and have lived and breathed the concept of Adda- Baazi there. And this group is Adda Baazi at its best – Virtual Addabazi if you may say so, but as stimulating and as refreshing as actually talking face to face.

The comradeship I have discovered here is unbelievable. We are a varied group – From Dentists to homemakers to motivational speakers to environment specialists. We come from different backgrounds and may have nothing in common, but the way I have seen blogeshwaries support and rally around each other is simply fantastic! We rejoice in the happiness of others and feel their sadness as if it was our own!

This is a group that will make you laugh with its witty one liners and whacky sense of humor. This is also a group where you will hear stories of indomitable courage and quiet resilience and wisdom and be awed. This is a group that will help and support you unabashedly. Will pick you up tenderly when you are down and then at the same time, unceremoniously brush the dust off you and tell you to stop whining and get on with life woman!

And ohh there are fireworks and how! We are opinionated, we clash and we don’t bow down easily. Histrionics and double standards are rarely tolerated and we bare our claws with dry sarcasm or sugar coated politeness that will cut you to the quick! But we enjoy the fireworks as much as we enjoy everything else. The bottom line is we are never judgmental and we are quick to forget and move on!

Yesterday, on June 2 this wonderful group turned One. 
And so on this momentous occasion I would like to raise a toast to Vinita who had the mad mad idea to start this group and also to our very able Administrators Janaki and Corinne.

Also, a big thank you to Garima who took the initiative and worked very hard to give us our header ! 

And last but not the least a toast to all of us blogeshwaries. 

The Header with all of us -  created by Garima ! 


Here’s to us ladies! May the madness continue!

And since Vinita doesn't let us off easily, On the occasion of this group turning one, she wanted us to do that One Elusive thing that we are scared of or have been putting off doing.

Honestly speaking I didn't really take up the challenge after Vinita had posted about it. But a few days before Vinita came up with this challenge, I was in Andaman and there I attempted something I never thought I would in my wildest dreams.

You see I am scared of being under water, and so haven’t been to the sea so far. I firmly believe that If God had wanted me to swim, he would have given me fins! I like my face to be out of water and I like to have my feet firmly on the ground!

Although I have been long intrigued with marine life and the wonderful world that lies beneath the sea, my fear has always prevented me from exploring it. I had the opportunity to get under water in Havelock Island and discover that world for myself. And this time I thought I would be damned if I let my fear come in my way!  

 So I gathered my courage and literally jumped in! I not only snorkeled but also did an underwater sea walk for 45 minutes. And it was so worth it because I got a chance to see a magical world - a colorful, utterly beautiful and mesmerizing world! 

And to prove that I actually did it – Here are a few pics ! 



May 30, 2013

Andaman Adventures - The early bird catches the Sunrise !

Everything about the resort we stayed in at Havelock Island spoke of relaxation and chilling out. 

The resort was very green and very peaceful. The only sound was the gentle murmurings of the sea interspersed by the occasional canon like thud of the coconuts falling from the trees. 



The cottages were right next to the sea with hammocks and beach chairs strewn about. 



This is what the view from the chair looked like. 


The sun rises very early in tropical areas and at Havelock the day used to break as early as 4.45 am. 
Even through well drawn curtains, it was impossible to keep the sun out. I am not sure I wanted to ! I used to get up with the first streak of sunlight and make my way to the beach to see the sun come up.

It was very quiet at that time in the morning.The only sound  was that of the sea and the early morning wind whispering through the trees. 

It was just me and the sea and the trees and the sun rising over the horizon. It was indescribably beautiful and incredibly peaceful. 

I clicked a few pics while sitting at the beach .. 

At first the sky turned a pale pink ....



And then there it turned golden with a tinge of pink and  red at the edges. It looked beautiful, as if the gods above were in a playful mood and had decided to strew some colors on  a palette. 


Then the sun peeped out, fiery and golden .. as if giving us an indication of the hot day that lay ahead, in spite of the clouds. 




Finally it hung in the sky, like a great orb of fire ! 



The colors disappeared and the sky was just a bright gold. The sea was suddenly a play of light and shadow. I caught these fishermen going out to the sea. Perhaps
to catch our Dinner !
 

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